EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the fourth in a series of stories profiling popular summer swimming holes in Polk County.
BUELL -- Cool, green light filters through a grove of ash and maple trees into a pool of lower Mill Creek. The grove provides some shade for a hot summer day's swim. In this creek west of Rickreall, three children splash in the water while their parents bask in the sun nearby.
Mill Creek's Buell Park, one of Polk County's day-use parks, is the perfect place for families with younger children who have a wide variety of water skills.
For babies, there's a smooth-bottomed pool that gradually gets deeper. For older children, there are deeper pools -- up to three or four feet -- not so deep as to worry a mother, but not so shallow that you can't swim underwater and feel the rush of the creek on your face.
The family's baby plays in the warm, sandy water, and the parents dip him as he kicks water with giggles and squeals. The smooth bottom is a mixture of clay and slate stone, so little guy is soon happily caked with a layer of mud that, when dried, is so chalky it could be formed into a whole set of tableware.
No harm done. It washes off quickly in the clear, languidly moving water.
The pool in this part of the park was formed when a huge log fell at one end of the creek, partially damming up the wide part of the creek where the shade and gravel is at its best.
Larger fish lurk in the depths near the shady trees. Smaller fry race away from small feet in the shallows. Crawdads skitter under the larger rocks near the fallen log.
Although this swimming hole has a great place to sit and a nice place to swim and wade, the access from the park is not ideal. Getting to the hole involves climbing down a three-foot bank. On the bright side, unless it was moved in the past few weeks, there's a hand rope tied to a tree to help lower yourself over the bank. That seems a small bother to get to a swimming hole that might be fine for an afternoon for the entire family.
Also, a short walk in the park, upstream, visitors will find the creek bottom is even more interesting, although much shallower. The water flows over shallow riffles formed by the soft rock and clay, forming a soft slide. This slide may be too shallow to slide down late in the summer, but after a good rain, it's almost as fun as a Disneyland ride.